The San Diego Chargers were just about finished kicking away another playoff opportunity.
San Diego (13-4) made its latest ignominious exit from the NFL postseason Sunday, wasting numerous scoring opportunities and bending just enough defensively in the second half of the New York Jets' 17-14 victory in the AFC divisional playoffs.
San Diego Super Chargers? Not this year, and perhaps not ever with beloved running back LaDainian Tomlinson, whose time in town could be over.
The second-seeded AFC West champions hadn't lost in their last 11 games since mid-October, yet this defeat didn't even seem to be much of a surprise to the fans who grumbled nervously through the low-scoring first three quarters before erupting in outright boos in the fourth.
It was San Diego's first home playoff loss since 2006, but its second in seven seasons to the Jets. The Chargers were the only team with a first-round bye who couldn't get out of the divisional round.
For all the brilliance of Philip Rivers and Drew Brees before him, for all the game-breaking running of Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, and for all the fierce defenders led by Shawne Merriman, the Chargers are just 3-5 in the playoffs over the last seven seasons.
They've made just one appearance in the AFC championship game with no Super Bowl appearances during the tenure of Tomlinson, who might have finished his storied career in San Diego with 24 yards on 12 carries â and just 4 yards in the second half.
Yet who deserved the blame for this one? The defense largely shut down the vaunted New York running game, not even yielding 100 yards until midway through the fourth quarter. The San Diego offense moved the ball fairly well, outgaining the Jets by 82 yards.
But both units made key mistakes as well. Shonn Greene's biggest run went straight through the defense's heart with 7:17 left for a 53-yard TD. Rivers' first interception in the second half killed a likely scoring drive, and his second set up the Jets' go-ahead score.
And don't forget, Chargers All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goals: a short try in the first quarter, a long one right before halftime, and a 40-yarder in the final minutes that would have trimmed the Jets' lead to seven points.
The last time the Chargers went into the playoffs following a bye, they went out in a similar fashion. New England scored 10 points in the fourth quarter of a 24-21 loss.
Jackson, the Chargers' standout receiver, reacted to Jets coach Rex Ryan's challenge of his 37-yard catch by kicking at the red challenge flag, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Backed up 15 yards, the Chargers managed to score anyway â but with only 2:14 left. The Jets recovered an onside kick by the Chargers, then converted a fourth-and-1 play to all but end it, as Tomlinson stood on the sideline looking every bit as discouraged as his younger teammates.
Tomlinson barely made it to this season with the Chargers, who contemplated cutting him loose to allay their salary cap woes. He has become one of the most beloved athletes in San Diego history during a nine-year career, but his decreased production and speed suggest his time with the club could be ending after his first career year with fewer than 1,000 yards rushing.
Rivers had another playoff game to forget despite 298 yards passing and an early touchdown. His first interception was a freak mistake attributable to the brilliance of cornerback Darrelle Revis, but his second was an awful miscommunication between Rivers and Antonio Gates, who didn't even turn around while Jim Leonhard intercepted the pass behind him.